Ice Hockey

Syracuse ice hockey improves defense for playoff push after late-season pact

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

Syracuse now mirrors its last three seasons by making a late push toward the conference tournament.

Before Syracuse won five of its last six conference games, its season neared collapse. The Orange had conceded 15 goals in three games.

On Dec. 10, then-No. 4 Clarkson rattled off three goals in the second period en route to a 4-1 victory. At Boston College on Jan. 4, SU blew a two-goal lead when a four-goal BC burst in the second frame and the Eagles won, 4-3. Then on a trip to Ithaca, New York, Syracuse gave up at least two goals in every period in an eventual 7-2 Cornell rout.

“You can tell when it’s going to happen to us,” SU forward Jessica Sibley said. “On the bench you can feel it.”

To earn a first-round bye, Syracuse (10-11-5, 9-3-2 College Hockey America) will need to prevent teams from scoring in bunches. Four times this season, the Orange defense has allowed at least three goals in a single period. After losing to Cornell, SU head coach Paul Flanagan made a pact with his team to end their losing ways.

The Orange has since outscored its opponents 21-6, winning four straight conference games before splitting a weekend series against No. 7 Robert Morris last weekend.

“It was instant,” SU defender Dakota Derrer said of the pact’s influence. “… Everyone was well aware.”

The last two seasons, the Orange has made a late-season push that launched it into the CHA championship game. This season, Syracuse wants to do the same.

Over the last six games, the Orange has imposed a new defensive game plan. Flanagan has prevented his team from giving up many goals by preaching a “defense-first” mindset and “mixing it up a bit.”

SU has emphasized clearing pucks in front of the net. By doing this, SU goalie Abbey Miller has seen a lower percentage of high-quality shots. Along with clearing the puck, Syracuse has tried to establish a strong fore-check and transition game to score more goals, as SU did in its 5-1 victory over conference leader RMU on Saturday afternoon.

Another point of emphasis is clearing the puck from Syracuse’s defensive zone. This has proven crucial to SU’s success. The Orange didn’t clear the puck in last Friday’s 3-1 loss to RMU.

“Any chance you can get, get it out,” Derrer said. “… Once we start turning it over, it ends up in the back of our net.”

The Orange has six conference games left to catch first place RMU. If Syracuse can follow through with its pact, it will have for the third straight year a shot at its first-ever CHA title.

“I think since then, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence,” Flanagan said of the wins that came after the pact. “I think they start to realize how important every game is.”

“It’s crunch time,” Miller said.

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